Czech Republic: 41 Romani college students win scholarships
On 8 November, 41 Romani college students were awarded scholarships from the Roma Education Fund (REF). The students received EUR 800 for the academic year, although students attending private colleges are allowed to request even more money to cover tuition.
An estimated 100-plus Romani people are studying at Czech colleges, and during the nine years the fund has been in operation, 205 scholarships have been disbursed in the country. This is the fourth year the ROMEA civic association has coordinated the program.
According to the project coordinator, Iva Hlaváčková, Romani students most frequently major in economics, education, the humanities, medicine and technical fields. Romani education in the Czech Republic is usually spoken of in the context of the "practical schools", which a disproportionate number of Romani children attend.
Hlaváčková says the fund targets college students because various subsidy programs from the Czech Education Ministry already exist to support Romani children's attendance of primary and secondary schools. Students may repeatedly apply for the REF scholarship throughout the course of their studies, but they must be evaluated by a selection commission which evaluates their grade average, their determination to study, and their other experiences.
"Roughly 89 % of these people complete their studies and subsequently find very good jobs," Jarmila Balážová, chair of ROMEA, says. The civic association believes this is proof that the money is well-invested.
Around 60 Romani students in Bachelor's and Master's programs apply for the scholarship annually; this year 73 people applied. However, Hlaváčková says more Romani students than that attend Czech colleges annually, estimated at more than 100.
The Czech Education Ministry is not able to report any precise numbers on how many college students in the country are Romani. Bohumila Potočná of the ministry claims it would not be legal to collect data on whether a student is Romani or not.
Romani college students receive no special support from the state but are entitled to the same stipends as other students, such as housing or social support. The main aim of the REF scholarship program is to increase the Romani minority's educational achievement and to act as a force for desegregation in the education systems of 13 countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
This year, in addition to a celebratory meeting for the new scholarship recipients, REF and ROMEA prepared two seminars for them, one on the topic of Romani identity and the other on entering the labor market to seek employment after successfully graduating from college. Figures such as Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, David Beňák, head of the Prague 14 Municipal Department's Health and Social Affairs Division, Emil Horvát, a senior shift supervisor at CzechPak Manufacturing, and others discussed these issues with the grantees.
Part of the afternoon ceremony also featured a discussion with Judit Szira, the director of REF, and other guests such as Anna Pechová from the Department of Inclusive and Specialized Education at the Czech Education Ministry or the Romani Coordinator for the Central Bohemian Region, Cyril Koky. The meeting was moderated by Jarmila Balážová, who described it as follows: "We set up the program so that those participating would get the opportunity to acquire not just practical and useful information to use in their later professional lives, but also so it would be a chance to meet other successful people who might be motivational, useful contacts for them in the future. The ability to succeed on the labor market and education itself are quite essential to the Romani community as a whole. Through these scholarships, REF supports many students who prove that they and their families care about education, that they want to go into interesting fields of study, and that they intend to be a full-fledged part of Czech society."
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